House Bill Targets Owners of Blighted Properties

Legislation Update
January 31, 2018

A bill introduced in the Ohio House would speed up legal action against landlords who own blighted properties that become magnets for crime.

State Rep. Adam Miller, D-Columbus, says the “Blight Bill” is aimed at addressing problems that continue to plague declining neighborhoods in Columbus and the rest of Ohio.

“Unfortunately, it’s all too common,” Miller said of blight. His House district includes the city’s West and South sides, where he said community members tell him that their No. 1 concern is abandoned and blighted properties, which sometimes become drug or prostitution houses.

“We have to do something about it,” Miller said. “You get after urban blighted properties, you deprive criminals of their hotbed drug sales, illicit prostitution, all of the criminal activity that goes with it,″

If adopted, the measure would allow cities to file civil actions against landlords with blighted, subsidized properties 30 days after they receive a notice, versus the current 60 days. Judges also would be able to hold hearings on complaints 14 days after the owner of a building is served with a complaint. Now, it’s 28 days.

Also, a property owner would have to comply with an injunction requiring the abatement of a nuisance in 14 days instead of 30 days. Violations would be a first-degree misdemeanor.

“This is not an issue for the responsible landlord,” Miller said. “This bill is aimed at the often out-of-town, out-of-state landlord who could really care less.”

Miller has discussed the bill with Columbus City Council and the city attorney’s office. Meredith Tucker, a spokeswoman for that office, said it is reviewing the draft.

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P. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, in southwestern Ohio, is co-sponsoring the bill, Miller said.

The original bill would have established a state-funded “Local Blight and Nuisance Abatement Fund” to allow local municipalities to boost enforcement and pay for cleanups. But Miller said he wanted to concentrate on the other elements of the bill first.

“I want to focus on the heart of the problem,” he said.

The bill will be referred to an Ohio House committee for hearings. Miller said he has not yet received any pushback.

Janet Capaldi, a central Hilltop resident for six years, said something more needs to be done to stem the crime problems connected to blighted properties. She said it takes too long now to deal with problem landlords.

“I’m sure it’s because of the volume of complaints. The problem is huge. We don’t have enough police and code officers. Everything takes so long,” said Capaldi, a Cleveland-area native who bought a house in the Hilltop because it was affordable.

Lisa Boggs, a Hilltop neighborhood leader, said Miller’s proposal is workable.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “The quicker they speed the process up, the more cases the city attorney can take.”

Other cities are trying to tighten up their own blight laws. In January, the Baltimore City Council introduced legislation that called for licensing and inspecting all residential rental properties, according to the Baltimore Sun. Landlords who comply with regulations and quickly fix violations would get licenses that require inspections every three years. Landlords who don’t would need to have their properties inspected every two years.

Baltimore, with an estimated population of 614,664, has 93 housing inspectors. Columbus, with a population of 860,090, has 66 code-enforcement officers, including supervisors.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

Additional Resources:

Ohio Legislature (HB 482 full text)

Baltimore City Council (Ordinance 18-0185 info)

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